More than 700 training places across pre-registration and post-registration nursing courses in England were left empty in the 2015-16 academic year following recruitment difficulties by universities, analysis by the national workforce planning body has confirmed.
Almost a third of school nursing course places, 15% of health visitor training spaces and 12% of district nursing course places were unfilled, representing a total shortfall of just over 300 students.
“[HEE local teams are] developing a long term, partnership approach with local schools and colleges to address retention”
HEE board papers
Meanwhile, 429 pre-registration nursing and midwifery commissions were left empty, including an almost 10% shortfall in learning disability nursing students.
However, 78 additional mental health nursing students were recruited onto courses, representing around 2% more than the target training places for the branch.
The figures, produced by Health Education England in a report for its latest board meeting earlier this week, confirm earlier predictions that hundreds of places would not be filled by the end of the academic year.
Concerns about the transfer of commissioning for public health nursing over to local authorities and the resulting lack of jobs were cited as reasons for the shortfalls in school nursing and health visitor commissions.
“However hard our teams are working…we are struggling to get local authorities to take on these [health visiting] roles”
With district nursing, as Nursing Times has previously reported, fewer high calibre applicants and problems with placement capacity had caused recruitment problems, as well as more nurses accessing these courses through continuing professional development training instead, according to HEE.
To address the 10% reduction in learning disability nursing trainees – out of the target 664 – HEE said there was “additional commissioning in dual qualification nursing in one local team”.
As previously reported by Nursing Times, difficulties in recruitment to adult nursing courses earlier in the academic year – particularly in London and the south east of England – has led to a new university being commissioned to provide training in spring 2017.
New strategies were also now being used including “developing a long term, partnership approach with local schools and colleges to address retention,” said the HEE board papers.
Meanwhile, universities saw 1% – or 25 – of their pre-registration midwifery course places left empty, following problems with recruitment to 18-month programmes.
Speaking at HEE’s board meeting, Nicki Latham, HEE’s director of performance and development, said the body had a number of contingency plans to help address nursing shortfalls, including using return to practice courses to bring former registrants back into the profession.
She noted that there were “significant challenges”, adding that with branches of nursing such as health visiting, “however hard our teams are working… there are insufficient applicants and/or we are struggling to get local authorities to take on these roles”.
Ms Latham suggested there may need to be a change to the way nursing roles in the community are trained in the future, to provide a more flexible workforce.
“[HEE nursing director] Lisa [Bayliss-Pratt] and her team are already onto this, thinking about…how do we reposition some of these nursing roles? Should we be more broad around community nursing rather than having these siloed ways of working which then cause challenges [from being] less flexible,” she said.